UN and global energy chiefs say Covid-19 crisis can be a green energy turning point

The IEA's executive director, Fatih Birol, said this could only happen if ministers, such as Eamon Ryan, put cleaner energy policies in place.
UN and global energy chiefs say Covid-19 crisis can be a green energy turning point
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned against backing fossil fuels in any Covid-19 recovery plans. File photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned against backing fossil fuels in any Covid-19 recovery plans. File photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP

Governments including Ireland's must aim to make 2019 the peak year for emissions, and capitalise on the plummeting of harmful output in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency.

The IEA's executive director, Fatih Birol, said this could only happen if ministers, such as Eamon Ryan, put cleaner energy policies in place.

Mr Berol was speaking at the global intergovernmental advisory agency's Clean Energy Transitions Summit, which saw climate and energy ministers from around the world take part, as well as Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres.

Mr Berol said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on global emissions reduction was seven times larger than the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, but that the ministers of the world would decide if those reductions were to stay with the policies they would put in place.

UN Secretary-General, Mr Guterres said it was "vital that we bring sharper focus on the need to transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future - a future that protects people and planet and promotes prosperity".

Coal should have "no place in Covid-19 recovery plans", he said, adding that nine million "needless deaths" occurring every year were happening because of harmful emissions.

It was "worse than tobacco smoking", Mr Guterres said.

"Today, nations are taking far-reaching decisions as they channel trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money into recovery strategies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As we design and implement these recovery plans, we have a choice. We can go back to where we were, or we can invest in a better, more sustainable future.

"We can invest in fossil fuels, whose markets are volatile and whose emissions lead to lethal air pollution. Or, we can invest in renewable energy, which is reliable, clean and economically smart," he said.

He took aim at nations like the US in a thinly-veiled attack for their intransigence on clean energy, saying "many have still not got the message".

"Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don't make financial or environmental sense.

"Per kilowatt hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries," Guterres said. "If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers."

Ministers in attendance represented almost 80% of global energy consumption and global carbon emissions, making the summit the highest-profile energy and climate discussion since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Danish Minister of Climate and Energy, Dan Jørgensen, said leaders should not repeat errors from the financial crisis of 2008, where countries heavily supported fossil fuels in economic recovery.

Ministers, including Ireland's new Minister Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, Eamon Ryan, have co-signed a call for "continued momentum and ambitious action to ensure an industry transition that tackles the climate crisis, creates decent jobs and delivers prosperity for all".

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